Driving innovation in British and Indian companies: Perspectives from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre

Source: Driving innovation in British and Indian companies, written by Phil Thornton.

For the last seven years the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RGC) has played a key role as a bridge between research carried out at Imperial College London and industries in both the UK and India.

Founded in December 2007 and named after the late Indian Prime Minister and Imperial College London alumnus, the Centre is now moving into a new era of research, education and corporate engagement that comes at a crucial time for two of the world’s 10 largest economies.

What ties these three themes together, according to Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi who recently took over as RGC director, is an ambition to create relationship platforms that will enable academics to work with businesses to deliver real impacts.

“We are right in the middle of it because of the position we occupy within the business school of a highly ranked university,” he says. “But it is more than just being a bridge – it is ensuring that something concrete happens in terms of impact.”

Within the education arena, the priorities for the future include building partnerships, executive education, MBA scholarships, and digital education.

One of the most successful initiatives of the first phase of RGC under the leadership of Professor Gerry George was the partnership with the Hero Group (a successful family owned group of companies) of India to launch BML Munjal University (BMU) in Delhi.

Imperial College Business School is serving as an academic mentor helping BMU to develop and grow its School of Management.  “One of the core values we wanted to give them right from the start was nurturing creativity.” says Dr Chaturvedi. “It is all about imagining and innovating leadership right from the start.”

RGC offers executive education programmes through which students gain the knowledge and best practices needed to prepare them to become the next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Research agenda

Over the coming five years the research agenda will focus on core areas including leadership challenges in start-ups and SMEs, social entrepreneurship, healthcare delivery, digital innovation, climate and energy studies, and public service design.

The Centre looks to function as a portal for Imperial College Business School’s strategic commitments in India for joint research initiatives and technology commercialisation.

“The whole idea is that if our researchers are doing something interesting in the sciences, engineering, computer science and healthcare areas and one of our industry partners has a problem in one of those domains, our researchers can work with them to convert the research into a practical application.

Chris Corbishley, a Doctoral candidate and ESRC scholar at the RGC, is bringing together research on healthcare service delivery in India, related to the prevention of the transmission of HIV/AIDS in the face of high social stigma, and the introduction of rural electrification to India as part of a doctoral thesis on organisational design.

“Being part of the RGC has provided a unique opportunity to study contexts that management scholarship so far does not understand,” he says.

“Our research has the potential to filter through to managers and decision-makers seeking a greater understanding of delivering new products and services to ‘the bottom billion’. We start by asking the question: When you cannot remove low-incomes and geographical dispersion from the context, how do you design an organisation that can deliver inclusive services.”

Look to the future

Corporate engagement is at the heart of the mission of the RGC. By integrating its research capabilities and education excellence, the Centre aims to provide channels of knowledge exchange between Imperial College London and Indian corporates.

The RGC has had successful partnerships including collaboration with Tata Consultancy Services on helping China become emissions-free.

Looking to the future, Dr Chaturvedi says the centre will continue to build relationships with both big business groups and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“In India we will embark on corporate engagement with industries who are keen to understand, and adapt to the UK industrial world,” he says.

The centre will target SMEs through its UK-India Business Growth Club, a network of like-minded UK, European and Indian businesses and institutions with similar interests.

“The idea is to provide a platform for companies who are thinking of expanding into India,” he says. “We are also encouraging entrepreneurship so that if someone has a good idea and wants to test it in India we can put together workshops and development programmes.

“We will use our position as a platform to connect executives from UK, European Union and Indian businesses that are thinking of expanding in India.”

As part of this fresh drive into corporate engagement, the RGC will launch a series of events entitled Innovation for Inclusive Growth, inviting leaders of top global companies to speak at Imperial College London. “We will bring together big shots from industry, policymaking and education on the same platform to discuss issues of mutual interest in the UK and India such as climate, energy and healthcare.”

Dr Chaturvedi says many potential collaborations between researchers and business partners are in the pipeline. “There are people in the energy domain and other areas who have contacted us and developments will materialise.

“We have to find ways to deliver outcomes,” says Dr Chaturvedi. “It is not just about creating something of value but it must also be about creating a sustainable momentum and impact whether that is around the research or industry partnership.”